Part-time: Definition and examples

The term part-time describes workers who work fewer hours in the day or week than full-time workers. The term can also apply to work and jobs, as in “I work part-time” or “I have a part-time job.”

laptop and other tools of a part time web content writerWeb content writing is a job that can be done part-time. Image Kevin Phillips on Pixabay.

No universal definition

The number of hours in a full-time job varies among countries and also from employer to employer within countries. Because of this, there is no universal definition of how many hours make up part-time work, except in relation to full-time.

The government of the United Kingdom, for instance, define a part-time worker simply as “someone who works fewer hours than a full-time worker.”

In the U.K., full-time workers usually work 35 hours a week or more. This is generally the case in the United States also.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) also define the term in relation to full-time. According to the ILO, part-time workers are those “whose normal hours of work are less than those of comparable full-time workers.”

The ILO suggest that part-timers are comparable to full-timers when they:

– Have the same type of employment relationship
– Do the same or similar type of work
– Work in the same organization

A bit of history

Regulation of working time was one of the first concerns of labor legislation. By the early 1900s, governments had recognized that working excessive hours was a hazard to health.

The very first ILO Convention, C001, put a limit on working hours. It was adopted in 1919. As countries introduced legislation on working time, so a framework for regulated hours, rest periods, and annual holidays began to emerge.

Involuntary part-time

Workers who choose to work fewer hours are not the same as those who are forced to do so, e.g., for economic reasons or because they cannot find a full-time job.

The U.S. government refers to the second case as “involuntary part-time” work.

The ILO also emphasize the distinction. They state that full-time workers who find themselves partially unemployed due to a “collective and temporary reduction in their normal hours of work for economic, technical or structural reasons, are not considered to be part-time workers.”

Employment rights

Specifying standards on part-time work is necessary to address issues such as promoting equality and job creation.

In the U.K., for example, it is against the law to discriminate against part-timers just because they do not work full-time. U.K. law requires that they receive equal treatment for:

  • Pay rates – including for sickness, maternity, paternity, and adoption leave
  • Holidays
  • Opportunities for: promotion, transfer, redundancy, and career breaks


Some people choose to work part-time to improve their work-life balance. Others may do so because their circumstances don’t permit them to work full-time. Reasons for this may include caring for aging relatives or young children.

Monster, the employment website, have a list of job types that might interest people looking to improve their work-life balance by going part-time. Here are some of them:

  • Recruitment – many headhunters employ part-timers. The work involves conducting telephone interviews, setting up meetings between employers and candidates, and keeping records.
  • Accountancy – in countries such as India there has been a surge in start-ups. This has increased the demand for part-time accountants and book-keepers. The work includes looking after petty cash, liaising with banks and suppliers, and helping out with annual audits.
  • Customer service and sales – for those who enjoy dealing with people and are good at it. There is a wide range of roles in a large variety of sectors.
  • Tutoring – offering tuition to school- and college-age students can be financially rewarding for those with the right academic qualifications and who have established a good reputation.
  • Content writing and editing – this ranges from technical writing (such as of product manuals) to writing and posting information and news on company websites and social media.